Wednesday, May 15, 2024
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RV Slide Topper Installation Guide

RV slide toppers provide added protection from moisture and falling debris, ensuring your slide-outs remain in good condition over your RV’s lifespan. While some RVs are sold off the lot with slide toppers, those without require a professional or DIY RV slide topper installation. 

If you’re unfamiliar with RV slide toppers, we recommend you read this article to learn about their benefits. It covers a slide topper description, the benefits of slide toppers, maintenance tips, advice for choosing compatible slide toppers for your RV, and recommended slide topper products. 

With that resource at your disposal, you’ll be better equipped to learn how to handle a DIY RV slide topper installation.

Words of Caution Before Tackling a DIY RV Slide Topper Installation

RV slide topper retracted
Photo by Camping World

Before we begin, understand that working on slide toppers has inherent risks and dangers. Most often, you should trust a trained RV technician to install your new or replacement slide toppers. Before you attempt this DIY installation, learn these risks and dangers to best prevent them.  

Below are the risks a DIY installation can pose to you and your RV:

Any awning, slide topper, or window awning contains a spring similar to a garage door spring. This spring is preloaded with a lot of potential energy stored within that tube. Usually, this installation requires you to be on a ladder or in other precarious positions where several scenarios may occur. 

In the case of a slide topper, all the potential energy stored is holding the two ends in place with cotter pins. If the cotter pins are removed at the wrong time, the ends will spin with tremendous force. Human nature is to attempt to stop all of that energy from spinning, which frequently results in injuries (even for trained RV technicians). 

Many technicians have attempted to prevent the spinning by using vice grips or other tools. This can result in those tools being flung, which fails to restrain the spring coil and turns them into dangerous projectiles in a scenario where installers are balancing on RV ladders.

Here are a few more downsides of this installation: 
  • You’ll be working from a ladder for a long time, reaching left and right while placing screws and feeding the awning into the rail. Be aware that the screws are typically non-magnetic stainless steel and will not hold to the driver bit. There are a lot of them, and it takes both hands.
  • The spring-loaded awning axle shaft can escape you and instantly spin 10-12 times. When you realize something has gone wrong, it will hit your fingers and knuckles repeatedly and with extreme force. A durable pair of work gloves can provide added protection for your hands. 
  • All edges can be sharp or have burrs. Most commonly, they score the awning fabric as it is slid into the awning rail. This can cause immediate or premature failure of the fabric. They can also cause cuts and scrapes to the installer. We’ll cover when/where to use a small file to round edges and remove burrs during the installation to minimize this risk.
  • There are so many holes being made with bits and screws through aluminum, steel, fiberglass, and wood that a tremendous amount of shavings will be created. They can end up in the installer’s eyes or skin, stuck to clothing, and end up in the laundry. Protective eyewear is recommended for this installation.
  • It is common for the driver bit to slip out of the fasteners. Care must be taken to control this so the driver bit doesn’t gouge the wall or harm the installer.
Here are some tips to help you complete a safe, successful installation:
  • Align the awning fabric as accurately as possible but wait to secure it with stop screws at each end of the awning rail until it has been run in and out a few times. This will ensure there are no wrinkles.
  • It is critical to precisely align the awning rail and slide room wall brackets. If mistakes are made, they cannot be adjusted later. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure proper alignment.
  • The installer MUST have help. Even the most experienced technicians get someone to lend a hand on this job to enhance safety, provide advice, and prevent damage to the awning or the RV.
  • Check for indications that wiring may be present inside the walls where screws are to be placed. This may require calling the manufacturer or visiting their website to check a wiring diagram. 
  • The surfaces must be carefully cleaned before installation. The correct sealants, as recommended by the awning manufacturer, are essential to prevent leaks and water damage.
tools for RV slide topper installation
Photo by Camping World

With those words of caution in mind, here is a quick checklist of the tools and supplies required for an RV slide topper installation:

  • New slide topper(s)
  • Awning rail(s) – if your RV isn’t already equipped
  • Butyl tape
  • 2 people
  • 2 ladders
  • Impact driver
  • Cordless drill and drill bit set
  • Needle nose pliers
  • ⅛” hex key
  • Utility knife

How To Install A Slide Topper

For experienced RV DIYers or those confident in their ability to complete this installation, these are the necessary steps for a Trailer Life RV slide topper installation. Check the specific installation instructions for your product if you’re installing a slide topper from another manufacturer. 

1. Install the Awning Rail(s)

Example of awning rail for RV slide topper installation
Photo by Camping World

The location must be a minimum of 3” and a maximum of 6” above the upper edge of the slide room. Mark the location with a non-permanent method. 

Apply butyl tape to the back of the awning rail and attach it with the supplied screws.

Gently use needle-nose pliers to open the awning rail’s installation corner to reduce the chances of the awning fabric catching during installation.

Check for other sharp edges and trim any excess butyl tape with the utility knife. Technicians suggest using a small file to round the sharp edges and remove any burrs present.

2. Install Access Plates and Brackets

Access plate and bracket secured for RV slide topper installation
Photo by Camping World

Apply butyl tape to the back of one access plate and secure it to the slide room’s exterior corner using the supplied screws. Repeat for the second plate on the opposite corner. 

Trim excess butyl tape around the plates with your utility knife.

Slide the brackets into the access plates according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

3. Assemble the Extension Rod

Example of RV slide topper extension rod
Photo by Camping World

Gently insert the extension rod into the spring head assembly torsion arm to align their fastener locations.

Slide the end cap into the extension rod to align all three fastener locations. 

Fasten one end using the supplied self-tapping screws and repeat for the other end.

4. Slide the Awning Fabric into the Awning Rail

Detailing awning fabric sliding into awning rail for RV slide topper installation guide
Photo by Camping World

Set your step ladders into place and ensure their stability. 

One person should ascend their ladder to the required height, and the second person should hand the extension rod up to the first person once they are stable and before ascending the second ladder to the required height. 

Position the rod so one person is on each end, and unwrap the awning fabric by a single turn. 

Slide the awning fabric into the awning rail, starting from the end with the corners spread open. 

Center the fabric over your awning room, and then slide the torsion arms into their brackets. 

5. Test and Secure

Closeup of exterior RV slide topper extension rod
Photo by Camping World

With the awning centered, hold the awning tube tightly while removing the pins on each end of the extension rod using the needle nose pliers. Allow the tension to release slowly in your hand. 

DO NOT pull the pins and let the tension snap!

Retract and extend your awning room a few times, checking that the awning remains square to your RV and rolls up straight. 

Secure the awning fabric at the ends of the rail with supplied screws. 

Secure the access brackets with supplied screws.

If this sounds like too much for a DIY installation, but you still want to add slide toppers to your RV, schedule an installation appointment at your local Camping World. Our certified technicians will secure your slide toppers and get you back on the road to enjoy new destinations this season. 

Do you have any questions about this RV slide topper installation? Let us know in the comments below!

The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and not intended to take the place of professional service providers. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability with respect to the information, products, services, or advice contained on the blog for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk. In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of data or profits arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this blog.

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